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Thursday, 14 September, 2000, 00:15 GMT 01:15 UK
Fat 'is an organ' say scientists
Most people regard fat as unattractive
Scientists believe fat plays an important role in helping the body to work properly.

They are so impressed with its abilities that they have suggested fat should no longer be thought of as "excess" tissue but should instead be upgraded to the class of body organ.

Researchers have found that fat plays an important role in protecting bones and organs, regulating hormones and the immune system and managing women's reproductive systems.

Studies have revealed fat produces an important hormone called leptin that communicates with the brain, informing it how the body's energy levels are doing.

Fat is an organ. You should probably think of it as a little bit like the liver

Simon Coppack, St Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine

Steve O'Rahilly, from the University of Cambridge, said the discovery of leptin "made fat much cleverer than it was thought to be before."

Simon Coppack, a researcher at the St Bartholomew's and the Royal London School of Medicine and Dentistry said: "Fat is an organ. You should probably think of it as a little bit like the liver."

The hormone tells the brain when the body needs to eat and when it has eaten too much.

But it also plays a role in the reproduction process. Women with very little body fat, such as anorexics, do not have periods.

Speaking to New Scientist magazine, Simon Coppack said body fat can contribute to a healthy pregnancy.

"If you went into a pregnancy malnourished, that would be catastrophic for both the baby and the mother.

"It is crucial that the mother's system knows that she has enough energy on board."

The hormone also plays an important part in fighting infection. It belongs to a family of molecules called cytokines, which are hormonal signals regulating the immune system.

When the body is affected these molecules flood the body and kick off an immune response. They also temporarily suppress appetite so that the body can use its energy to fight the infection.

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28 Jul 00 | Health
Could a virus make you fat?
10 Aug 00 | Health
Breakthrough in obesity study
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